Rudderless Aris about to sink?

A week after taking over at Aris soccer club, a development that raised the cash-strapped club’s hopes of survival in professional competition, Saudi Arabian investor Khalid Al Kasimi resigned yesterday. In recent days, players had been criticizing the investor publicly for alleged broken promises to deliver unpaid salaries linked with the club’s previous administration. The entrepreneur’s departure from the struggling Thessaloniki club now seriously threatens to deprive Aris of its place in the first division. All professional teams must meet state-imposed criteria by tomorrow, or suffer relegation to amateur competition, as part of a government plan to financially stabilize professional Greek soccer. The newly assembled Professional Sports Committee, EEA, which the government insists is free of political pressure and party allegiances, has been charged with deciding whether clubs are financially fit enough to remain in professional soccer. «I’m giving away the 69,000 euros and going. I’m very disappointed. I’m done,» Al Kasimi, who had committed the aforementioned sum, told a team of EEA officials. The club’s previous president, Nikos Tsarouchas, who stepped in as caretaker boss until a solution is found, yesterday visited EEA’s headquarters and asked for an extension to tomorrow’s deadline. The committee’s top man, Constantinos Papalakis, is believed to be considering granting it. Tsarouchas said the club was in urgent need of 600,000 euros to settle various outstanding financial debts before gaining EEA approval. After a series of complaints about Al Kasimi’s failure to produce unpaid salaries following his takeover of the club, Aris players warned that they would abandon pre-season training in Austria and return to Thessaloniki if fees were not provided yesterday. Following the club’s latest debacle, its players are now scheduled to return to Thessaloniki early today. They had moved to a training facility in Salzburg last Friday. Reflecting the club’s desperate state, a club official needed to send 13,000 euros from Thessaloniki to cover the squad’s accommodation costs for its brief stay in Austria. Fearing a possible getaway, hotel officials apparently called in local police. The team’s players were reportedly forced to pay for their plane tickets. It remains unclear whether any prospective buyers are willing to step in and fill the void left by Al Kasimi. Though the intentions of the team’s players are also unknown, the prospect of a mass exodus should no new investor soon come to the rescue, can be considered almost certain. Besides Al Kasimi’s short stay, another man who came and went very quickly was defender Leonidas Vokolos, who, just days ago, had reached a deal to transfer from Panathinaikos, and was set to sign. «Things are mixed up at Aris,» remarked Vokolos, who said that he had been offered a good contract but could not stay under the circumstances. «The Aris chapter is over for me. I told them that, first of all, they should take care of the players who carried the burden last season and pay them before signing any new players,» he added.

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